Nagahama Castle (長浜城) at the northeastern lakeshore of Lake Biwa is known as Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s starting point of becoming the leader of Japan. Even if you aren’t interested in Japanese history and the Japanese castle, you might still want to visit the castle park in spring. Usually, from early to mid-April, the cherry trees blossom beautifully around the castle, making the park one of Japan’s Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots!
A Brief History of Nagahama Castle
In 1573, Kinoshita Tōkichirō (木下藤吉郎) defeated Azai Nagamasa (浅井 長政), the third and the last lord of the Azai Clan. Tōkichirō, from a peasant background, then subsequently became a feudal lord and was given the majority of the Azai clan’s territory to govern. Moreover, his name was changed to Hashiba Hideyoshi (羽柴秀吉).
As Imahama (currently Nagahama) is a transportation hub, instead of reconstructing the Odani Castle (小谷城) that he surrendered, a new castle was completed in 1575.
Feeling thankful towards his prominent lord – Oda Nobunaga, the new castle was named Nagahama instead of Imahama, with the “Naga” from “Nobunaga”.
For 10 years, Hideyoshi being the lord of Nagahama Castle, set out attacks towards the Hokuriku (北陸) and Chūgoku (中国) regions for Oda Nobunaga.
After the Honnō-ji Incident (本能寺の変), the territory around Nagahama Castle was re-zoned to be under Shibata Katsuie (柴田勝家). Katsuie’s nephew Katsutoyo (勝豊) became the lord of Nagahama Castle.
In 1583, the battle between Hideyoshi and Katsuie occurred at Mt. Shizugatake (賤ヶ岳) in Nagahama’s north. The battle is known as the Battle of Shizugatake (賤ヶ岳の戦い), where Katsuie lost both the battle and his life.
Since then, the castle was the base of a few more different feudal clans before it became a part of Hikone Domain (彦根藩). After the Toyotomi clan was destroyed, Nagahama Castle was dismantled with many of the building materials used to construct Hikone Castle (彦根城). A few gates of the castle were relocated to the temples in Nagahama during this process as well.
Nagahama Castle’s Location
Nagahama Castle, built on Lake Biwa’s lakeshore, is a fortress surrounded by water. Knowing there is little risk of flooding, Hideyoshi had the castle built here so it would be hard to attack.
The main quarter of the castle, Honmaru (本丸), was located closest to the lake. It is protected by the second quarter, Ninomaru (二の丸) in the south, and the third quarter, Sannomaru (三の丸) in the north, as his vassals’ residence.
In the case where both the second and the third quarter were taken down, Hideyoshi could still escape from the watergate of the castle leading to Lake Biwa.
From this structure, it isn’t hard to tell that Hideyoshi had a talent for being a feudal lord.
Nagahama Castle Nowadays
Unfortunately, what the castle looks like now might resemble little of the castle built by Hideyoshi. The amount of documentation of the castle is just not enough to paint a clear picture of what sort of castle Nagahama Castle was.
In modern times, Nagahama Castle Ruins were maintained as Hō Park (豊公園). The current Nagahama Castle was constructed with donations from the general public in 1983 and opened as a historical museum. The castle was built with other castles built by Hideyoshi in the region as models (such as Inuyama Castle (犬山城) and Fushimi Castle (伏見城)).
If you visit the castle/museum in spring, the scenery of cherry blossoms will amaze you. The scenery is so gorgeous that it was chosen to be one of Japan’s Top 100 Cherry Blossom Spots!
The castle’s top floor observatory will give you a panoramic view of Japan’s biggest lake – Lake Biwa (but it can be windy and cold). If you don’t want to climb your way up, take the elevator inside the museum.
Inside Nagahama Castle Historical Museum
The exhibition floors of the museum are divided into a couple of areas.
There is an area where the history of the castle’s construction is demonstrated through dioramas. At the time, wood was logged and transported from the sacred Chikubu Island (竹生島) in Lake Biwa.
Another exhibit worth checking out is the folding screen from the Edo period. It has a painting of the Battle of Shizugatake painted on it. At the top is Hideyoshi’s force crashing fiercely with Katsuie’s force at the right.
Inside the museum, you will also find statues of the famous warriors in the Sengoku period (1467 – 1615) such as Ishida Mitsunari (石田三成) and Katō Kiyomasa (加藤清正). Most of the statues were made in the late Edo period.
Tip: On Sundays and public holidays in April, May, October, and November, the traditional tea room on the 4th floor is open.
Important: Please bear in mind that the exhibits in the museum don’t have an English explanation underneath Japanese. A simple pamphlet, however, will be provided upon request.
Nagahama Castle Historical Museum’s Opening Hours, Admission Fees, and Access Information
- Nagahama Castle Historical Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm
- The last admission is at 4:30 pm
- It is close from the 27th of December to the 2nd of January
- The admission fee is
- 410 yen for adults
- 200 yen for elementary and junior high school students
- From JR Nagahama Station (長浜駅), it is less than a 10-minute walk
- You can park your car at Hō Park’s car park for up to 3 hours for free
Discover Other Exciting Attractions in Nagahama City
Nagahama, the second biggest city in Shiga Prefecture, is rich in history and nature. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s success in becoming the leader of Japan in the second half of the 16th century is said to have started from here.
Apart from the cultural and historical attractions, the city will also excite shopaholics and figurine manias!
For more information, please refer to our article on Nagahama (=ﾟωﾟ)ﾉ.